Q I live in an area where there are lots of horses. The roads and footpaths where we walk are strewn with horse dung, which is particularly attractive to my dog. He makes a beeline for it when off-lead and even when on-lead he shows an intense interest, especially if it’s fresh! I want to stop this unpleasant habit, so would appreciate your advice.
A We may find this habit offensive, but dogs obviously enjoy the addition to their diet and it is quite a normal canine habit. Some dogs also eat their own faeces. I have to say that my dogs used to do it, too, but not any more. Many horses, cattle and sheep nowadays receive regular medication that would not be prescribed for dogs. Some of this is expressed in the droppings, along with parasites, etc., so dogs that eat it are potentially at risk.
When you are walking off road, attach a long line, say 6-9m long, to the collar to enable you to give a sharp jerk when your dog attempts to eat the dung, at the same time say “No!” firmly; when he comes back to you praise him and encourage him to switch his attention to you by playing with his favourite toy or ball. Throw it for him to fetch when he shows signs of interest in any dung and when he brings the toy back to you make it fun, praise him and get his attention. This preferred behaviour has to be more rewarding for your dog than eating the droppings. Effectively you are using play to interrupt the unwanted behaviour. After a while, this should become ingrained in your dog’s behaviour and he will be focused on your game together, rather than eating the forbidden dung.
The same technique of distracting your dog applies when you are walking along a road together when he shows interest in horse dung, but perhaps you can hold a ball on a rope. The behaviour needs correcting, so a prompt with the lead to get his attention, a verbal correction or better still get your dog’s attention – this is where the “watch!” command comes in handy to distract him, if he is determined to reach the dung.
Receiving a repetitive reward reinforces a habit, so it may be necessary to stop this process altogether by fitting a basket style muzzle. It is an effective method of stopping the unwanted behaviour, so try it for a month or so before allowing your dog to play on the end of the line again, correcting him when necessary. You need to be diligent and persistent when tackling this problem, but remember that it is natural for dogs to eat animal droppings, which are tasty to them, but repulsive to us.